Northern Ireland’s Supreme Court has heard that women do not have access to abortion services 14 months after they had obtained the law.
Lawyers for the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission told the court that this was due to a «deeply regrettable and disturbing practice of pointing fingers» and «waiving legal responsibilities».
The case is being brought against the Northern Ireland Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Executive Director and the Department of Health.
The court was informed that government agencies are blaming each other for the delay.
Abortion has been legal in Northern Ireland since the end of March 2020.
This came after lawmakers acted in Westminster at a time when the power-sharing government in Stormont collapsed.
However, since then, abortion services have been provided on an ad hoc basis by individual health funds and full services across the region have not been mandated by the Ministry of Health.
The commission’s attorney, David Blundell, said the failure to provide services violated the human rights of women and girls who are enduring a «truly terrible impact and dilemma» from traveling to England for an abortion or taking unregulated pills.
He told the court that the foreign minister says that this is a matter for the Ministry of Health, which in turn says that there is a need for approval from the executive branch of the National Institute of Housing.
Meanwhile, the executive denies it has the necessary powers.
«What emerges from the parties’ position is an extremely unfortunate and disturbing practice of pointing fingers and waiving legal responsibilities,» said Mr. Blondell.
The court was informed that the Secretary of State has a legal duty imposed on him by Parliament to act «expeditiously» to provide the services required to protect the human rights of women and girls in Northern Ireland.
The lawyer for the National Human Rights Committee said that the influence on them is «significant» and is known by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Blundell told the court that the Health Department alleges that the Covid-19 pandemic was a factor in the delay, but said that this was in fact a factor in favor of the commissions case.
«Covid made access to abortion facilities in England practically impossible,» he said.
He said that while the executive authority claims that it does not have the authority to provide health care services, the NHRC alleges that its “failure to agree to the mandate” of abortion services means that the Ministry of Health has “been deprived of the executive authority to act.”
Mr Blundell said the department claims it is obligated to bring the matter to the executive branch and that without an agreement there it cannot go further.
Earlier, Northern Ireland’s foreign minister said he would «not hesitate to act» if abortion services were not offered.
Brandon Lewis commented on Twitter this morning saying, «Women have waited a very long time to get to these essential healthcare services» and said, «It’s essential to have them delivered.»
«I will not hesitate to act if this is not the case,» he said.
Women have waited a very long time to access these essential healthcare services.
This has to be delivered.
I wouldn’t hesitate to act if that wasn’t the case. https://t.co/GUUMorQ6XX
Brandon Lewis May 26, 2021
The National Human Rights Commission says the failure to provide abortion services is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were liberalized in 2019 by Representatives in Westminster as the joint government in Stormont collapsed.
Laws that allow terminations in all circumstances during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy came into effect in March.
In April of this year, the House of Commons approved regulations that enable the Secretary of State to take action on the deployment of abortion services.
The case is expected to be heard over a period of two days.
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